3 January 2014

Christmas et al

It has been a while since my last post, it seems that Christmas took over my life! Not sure what I did when I was working full time but I didn't seem to have any time this year! Probably just lack of organisation, must write more lists next time! But there was a lot of Christmas baking done and here follows the pictures to prove it.

These are my mince pies. I made traditional ones, the ones with the star tops, and frangipane ones. The frangipane ones were the favourite.

My christmas cake (one of four that I made, the other three went to good homes) with royal icing and green stars. Still have half left but it will go down quickly enough.

Christmas dinner pie. This had all the leftovers within - turkey, stuffing, sprouts, cranberry sauce and topped with roast potatoes. A fine way to use up the leftovers.

This is the Christmas bake I am most proud of, a Pandoro. This is Verona's version of the Panettone. It is a cakey bread flavoured with vanilla. It took about 36 hours to make but it was worth it. My sister in law sent me the recipe from Italy, in Italian! It had lots of pictures and with the help of Google translate I managed to decipher it. It turned out well in the end although I haven't tasted one before so not sure if it was authentic but it did the trick and didn't last very long. I made another one which will be going into bread and butter pudding this very evening.
So, there is a roundup of my Christmas activity. Happy New Year one and all and more baking and knitting on its way in 2014.

27 October 2013

German Chocolate Cake

As you all know, I am working on setting up my own baking business and as part of that I need to get practice. To that end I sent out an email to my friends offering my cake baking services for the price of the ingredients. The response from everyone has been lovely, lots of "Good Lucks" and "Wows" some cake requests, yay! Thanks friends.
The first cake request was a German Chocolate Cake. My friends partner asked people at work if they had any cake needs and one American colleague asked for said German Chocolate Cake. My first thought was, never heard of that before, what is so special about this cake? I immediately turned to the interwebulator and lo and behold many entries and recipes for the German chocolate cake. It turns out that it has nothing to do with Germany the country, it is named after the type of chocolate used to make the cake and is an American sweet treat.
The chocolate used is German's chocolate which is a semi-sweet baking chocolate and apparently the recipe first appeared in 1957 and has been a popular American cake ever since. I looked at many recipes and decided on the one from the Joy of Baking, it gave some history behind the cake and also gave alternatives to the German's chocolate (which is rarely used these days). The cake is a triple chocolate layer cake with a caramel frosting flavoured with pecans and coconut. And so we came up against a problem, I don't own three 8in cake tins. In fact I have three tins that are of a size but are not quite 8in, crazy I know! These are tins that I have bought over the years and they all differ in size by very small amounts, one is 8in, one is just under and the other is about 7.5in!!! I'm sure they were sold to me as 8in tins.....I decided to use them because the thought of dividing the recipe in three and cooking each one separately hurt my head.
There are many ingredients in this cake, melted chocolate (I used a 60% cocoa solids chocolate), coffee, buttermilk and of course the usual butter, sugar, eggs and flour. But all very easy, it uses the creaming method and then all the other ingredients are folded in. I divided the batter between the three tins putting a bit more in the smaller tin to help keep the height the same as the other two, it made sense at the time!
While the cakes were cooling I made the frosting. It is a strange frosting made with egg yolks, sugar and either evaporated milk or double cream. I chose double cream. These are heated and stirred until the mixture thickens, it's almost like a custard. Once it reaches the right consistency it is taken off the heat and chopped pecans and coconut added. This is left for about 60 minutes and then it is ready for spreading.
The assembled cake is a whopper! The other thing about this cake is that it is not frosted all over, seeing the chocolate layers and frosting in between is all part of the fun. I put the smallest cake on the top and once it was iced it looked a bit wonky but I think it passed muster.

I delivered it to my friend and awaited the verdict. I wondered if it would be like the German chocolate cake that her colleague remembered from the US. A couple of days later and apparently it went down very well and reminded them of home! Mission accomplished.
Since then I have purchased two 8in cake tins and will rid myself of the "not quite 8in" ones.

21 October 2013

Technical Challenge 3: Apricot Couronne

As I mentioned in my last blog I had a flurry of technical challenges last weekend. The second of my bakes was the Apricot Couronne. As I am not doing them in order I chose this one because I fancied making a yeasty thing and happened to have all the ingredients to hand.
For me the dough wasn't a problem, it is a slightly enriched dough. I always leave my dough for 10 minutes after mixing it before I start to knead it. This comes from Dan Lepard's method, although he then only kneads for 10-15 seconds and leaves it for another 10 minutes and repeats this three times before leaving it for it's first rise. I found that just leaving it for the first 10 minutes the yeast has started it's magic and I only need to knead (!) for about 5 minutes rather than 10-15 minutes. It seems to work for me!
This dough is a bit wet as it has butter, egg and milk in it but once you start working it it becomes less sticky and more manageable. I did one stupid thing and that was to use an egg straight from the fridge!! Really?? I know better, really I do, but sometimes I'm a bit devil may care and just go ahead. It's not even that hard to warm up an egg, put it in warm water for about 10 minutes and it warms up a treat. Could I wait 10 minutes? Apparently not.... As a result the dough didn't rise very well on it's first rise but once I had added the apricot mixture and rolled, cut and twisted it, it behaved much better.
I baked it for the length of time given in the recipe and it looked and smelled like it was baked so I left it to cool. We were having it for lunch and the husband couldn't wait very long so it was still warm when we cut into it. The bit that had the most filling wasn't as well cooked as the bits that had less filling, which makes sense. It was also much better on the second day. If I make it again I would use less butter and sugar as it was a bit sickly. Was it wasted? Oh no it wasn't, every last morsel was enjoyed.

If you compare my Couronne with Paul Hollywood's you will see that his has a bigger hole in the centre. I think my dough wasn't as long as his when he rolled it, hence the bigger hole. Looking at it another way, mine had more tasty Couronne!

14 October 2013

Technical Challenge 2: Floating Islands

You wait eight weeks for a technical challenge and then two come along at once! You will remember at the beginning of this years GBBO I said that I wanted to make all the technical bakes? In the same week? Yeah, failed miserably on the latter but I'm still determined to make them all. This weekend I was nursing my husband after a leg operation (nothing serious but he couldn't get around very well so I had to be on hand) and so had a bit of time on my hands. I made two of the technicals, more on the second one later.
Floating islands or Îles Flotante if you are being all French about it was the week three technical. Poached meringues in a creme anglaise with spun sugar on top, easy. I had all the ingredients (eggs, sugar, cream, milk, vanilla bean paste) so I decided to give them a go on Saturday, we could have them for our dessert (a treat for the wounded husband).
Making meringue is ok, done that before. My first challenge was shaping them into quenelles, never done that before. I have seen it done so I made my best attempt, they weren't the smoothest or the shapliest but they did the job. The next hurdle was the poaching. It said to poach over a very low heat and make sure not to let the poaching liquid boil. I put it on the lowest heat but it still boiled and the meringue quenelles puffed up (it was pretty impressive) so I took the pan off the flame, hovering over it until the nine minutes were up. I scooped them out of the liquid and left them to drain.

Now for the creme anglaise, another first. But I have been reading about it and the pitfalls, not heating it to much etc. The poaching liquid is sieved to get rid of any rogue meringue. I beat the egg yolks and sugar until they were pale and fluffy and added the poaching liquid, whisking all the while, and put it in a clean saucepan over a low heat. I cooked it for about three minutes I think, until it reached the right consistency, i.e. coating the back of the spoon and all smooth and silky. I left everything to cool and moved on to the spun sugar (are you kidding me!).
This was the hardest bit of this challenge, another first, but also it's VERY HOT sugar that you are playing with so a bit daunting. I managed to get something that looked ok, but it was really difficult to move it fast enough over the rolling pin to get the very thin strands. There were lots of blobs of sugar rather than gossamer strands of sugar! But I got enough to make sort of balls of sugar to stick atop my floating islands, there was a lot of wastage!! And now to assemble.
Et Voila!

The meringues were light as a feather and my first attempt at creme anglaise wasn't half bad but I don't think it is one of my favourite desserts. However it did test many of my skills as well as my patience (spun sugar, why I oughtta.....)

11 October 2013

Black Pepper Rye and Band of Bakers

I watched the Paul Hollywood Bread programme earlier this year (I enjoyed it, good recipes) and in one of the episodes he visited a South East London baking group, Band of Bakers. It was started by two South East Londoners (Naomi and Gemma) and is about people who love to bake getting together and trying each others bakes. Interesting, I thought, at the time and then it went out of my head.
When I was made redundant and started to think about baking a bit more I remembered them and put myself on the email list. The first event was quite soon after I contacted them and I couldn't make it. Then I got an email about an event with Dan Lepard! Being a fan I was excited. The event was to help publicise the publication of Short and Sweet in the Netherlands. They wanted members to make recipes from the book. We had to submit our two favourite recipes and then Band of Bakers chose which bakes would make the cut for the event. I chose the Black Pepper Rye Bread (have made it twice before and loved it) and the Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake (never made it but wanted to!). Given Dan Lepard's reputation I didn't have a lot of confidence that I would make the cut. But a week or so later the email came through, I was in! With the Black Pepper Rye, I was very excited and also filled with trepidation. Making Dan Lepard's bread and having him taste it, maybe!
The day came around and I made the bread as per instructions in Short and Sweet and the bread Gods were with me as it turned out the best I have ever made it, it rose beautifully and was a very handsome loaf. Not being sure about the etiquette of bake club I turned up early (the event was held in a local Nunhead cafe the wonderful Bambuni) without a plate to display my bread or a knife to cut it! Happily the lovely Band of Bakers ladies came to the rescue with a bread board.

As everyone arrived there were amazing bakes from about 30 people, mostly cakes but there were a few savoury items too. All looked amazingly professional.
We then waited for the guest of honour. Dan arrived with five Dutch food journalists, his Dutch publicist and his husband. He was lovely, introduced himself to everyone and was overwhelmed by the array of bakes from the book. Then we tucked in! It all tasted as good as it looked and I got to take home a goody lunchbox! Everyone was very complementary about my bread, all the jornalists loved it and one even took a photo of me with the bread! Who knows I may turn up in a Dutch food magazine.... But the highlight of the night was when Dan's partner came over to me and said that the bread was exactly the same as when Dan makes it and that it was "amazing", his word. I have to say I felt very flattered, I think I even blushed!!
So, a great success and I met some lovely people who love to bake. Hopefully I will be able to go to future events.

27 September 2013

Courgette Cupcakes aka Vehicle for Italian Meringue Buttercream

As you know, I have been doing some research into baking over the last few weeks. Trying to hone my skills in the basics, creme patisserie, creme anglaise, pastry and buttercream icing. Who knew there were so many varieties of the buttercream icing? And so many better tasting buttercreams too! Of course I have made the classic, butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract and the cream cheese variety but the Italian Meringue buttercream and the French butter cream are new to me. I started with the former, the IMBC and boy is it dreamy.
I wanted to make it but had to have something to put it on, you can't just eat it by the spoonful can you? No? Ok, yes you're right, mustn't eat it by the spoonful!
We have recently been getting a fruit and veg box from Abel & Cole and the week before last we got two courgettes. Now, I am in two minds about the courgette. Cooked in the right way it can be delicious but get it wrong and it can be a very tasteless. One of my favourite ways of cooking the courgette is to put it in a cake, it makes a great alternative to the carrot cake. One of the signing up gifts from Abel & Cole was their cook book. All you have to do is go to the index, look up your fruit or veg and there are some lovely recipes to open. Italian Courgette Cupcakes was where I stopped under the courgette. I replaced the honey and nut topping with the IMBC.
I found this recipe for the IMBC, it was very clear, the pictures helped. The basis of this buttercream is a meringue made with a hot sugar syrup. You get a very thick and silky meringue and then add your butter whisking all the while. At first I thought that it wouldn't work, the addition of the butter makes it split but you just whisk on through and you end up with this thick, unctuous, creamy icing that you can use on anything. The thing you have to remember, again, is that you shouldn't just eat it by the spoonful. It's hard to remember when you are faced with the finished product.

I then piped it on to the courgette cupcakes. The cakes were lovely (a nod to the healthy) but the thing that my husband remarked on the the icing, he liked it, a lot!

20 September 2013

Leith's British Baking Masterclass

As you know I was recently made redundant from my day job and my lovely work friends were very generous with my leaving gifts. I got a set of Orla Kiely cake tins, a great necklace with an oven glove, grater, whisk and frying pan charms and (the reason for this post) a voucher for Leith's Cookery School. I chose to do the British Baking Masterclass, a one day course that covered all the basics. I thought it would be a good class to make sure I was solid in all the cake techniques.
I did the course two weeks ago. I really enjoyed the day, everyone was very helpful. What it showed me was that I am pretty ok on the basics, now I need to start using those skills to experiment.

The things I learned that I sort of already knew:
1. Creaming the butter and sugar until it is really, really, really pale and fluffy, you can never do this too much.
2. Always fold in the flour to your batter, not over-working it.
3. Oven temperature is key, "know your oven".
4. I'm pretty good on all the techniques.
5. Always have the eggs at room temperature.

The things I learned that I didn't know:
1. When making a sponge beat all the eggs together first and then add them a tablespoon at a time to your creamed butter and sugar, whisking them well in between each addition. This makes for a lighter sponge, you get more air into the mixture.
2. Whatever raising agent you are using (Baking Powder, Bicarbonate of Soda) once this added to your mixture the chemical reaction starts immediately so it's important to get the cake in the oven as soon as possible to take advantage of that rising.

As I knew, baking is a science. It's about chemical reactions, the the ingredients you use as well as how you use them will determine the outcome of your cake. I also got a book recommendation from one of the chefs. It is all about the science The Science of Good Cooking . I want to learn the science behind all these reactions and then I can use that knowledge to experiment and be creative. Well, that's the idea anyway!

Below are the fruits of my labour: Victoria sponge with a passion fruit butter icing, lemon and blueberry friands, sun-dried tomato and basil scones and cherry and chocolate cookies. I have to say that the sponge was probably one of the best I have ever made so the course was worth it just to master that.

I also got a certificate! It came in the post yesterday, to get it framed or not?!!!